Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fermier,artisinal,cooperative or industriel ?

The supermarket lady in the rakish pork pie hat has decided that she is going to educate me about cheese. Each time I go to the local store she slices off small pieces of Rigotte, Morbier, or Coulommiers and slides them across the counter for me to taste. Yesterday she had just had a delivery of three local varieties , Ardi-Gasna, Matocq and Le Petit Pardou. Names and textures that come from small farms in the foothills of the mountains that make artisinal cheese with herds of 50 or 60 cows. The flavour varies depending on the season, the lushness of the grass, and where the snowline lies. She stands and beams , arms folded, as the gospel of gastronomy is brought to a 'wild friend from the north'. Will I ever be able to tell the difference between the various methods of production?

Wilf is having his regular as clockwork once every ten days stomach upset. It must be something physical that developed after the pancreatitis.The vets can't seem to get a handle on what is bothering him. It may be routine but it still hurts to see this big, friendly happy fellow so down in the dumps. He wants to be alone but at the same time he just wants to snuggle down and be cuddled. The helpless 'do something ' look he gives us doesn't make it any easier to live with.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


In London the rain falls with grey monotonous regularity , unexceptional, unloved and constant. Just simple, plain rain and a part of the backdrop of daily life . It's not always so. Sometimes , when we used to walk the two boyz along the beach in Scotland the fine North Sea rain, driven angrily landwards by the gales ,would whip and craze our faces like thousands of tiny needle points. We would return home from the shore with our skin red and raw from the elements. Last night we had an new experience, Pyrennean rain - an altogether different sort of downpour caused by the updrafts and thermals from the mountains. Instead of falling in nondescript uniformity it somehow managed to coalesce into large blobs, four or five times the size of ordinary raindrops. This alien rain threw itself determinedly down from the sky, landing on the road with the satisfying sound of eggs sizzling on a pan, and flooding the ditches with torrents of mud . Within a hundred yards, our evening walk had become an uncomfortable affair. We were soon as drenched as if someone had turned a fire hose on us. Wilf and Digby quickly took stock of the situation and made the decision that this was not the weather for a stroll and turned purposefully back towards the house their coats soaked through to the skin. Even those things we most take for granted - like rain - can surprise.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The naked man and the twelve French ladies.

Lesson one for bloggers - Never ever write about how good the weather is. You can say it's miserable , or cold ,or wet, or snowy and nothing will happen. But, say the sun is out and the internet muses that deal with hubris burst into action. Today, our week of wonderful spring like weather has gone to be replaced by a cold, grey, dreech mist. More Tobermory than Toulouse.

At nine this morning a strange man appeared at the door . I say strange only because he sported a luxuriant mass of face stubble which was exactly the same colour as his bobble hat. The disconcerting combination of the two identical tones - the grey whiskers and the grey wool of his hat - made him look eerily shaggy, something akin to an ageing orang-outang. You will understand from this preamble that my attention was focused on his startling appearance rather than the verbal invitation to the village hall he delivered. I caught something about him being the caretaker, he'd turned the heating on, there was a gathering, the art class, the ladies would like to meet me, could I come over? Still distracted by his appearance and fearful that Wilf and Digby might catch a glimpse of this woollen apparition I gently but surely escorted him back to the gate and said 'yes, of course. I'd love to'.

As I pushed the door of the village hall open there facing me at one long table were twelve French ladies of a certain age, chatting vivaciously away, all rather smartly dressed . It was immediately clear from the pads and pencils scattered around that this was the weekly village art class. A scene of calm , gentle refinement. I introduced myself, thanked them for the invitation, spoke French as clearly and correctly as I could and shook each ones hand, remembering to ask where each of them lived and how long they lived there. It was only when I enquired what they were drawing that I was suddenly engulfed with a sense of approaching panic. Each of these apparently demur souls seemed to have an altogether unheathy fixation on the nude male form in its most anatomically correct state.What in heavens name had I stumbled across?

At this point I became aware of a noise behind me. Turning round I caught sight for the first time of a youngish gentleman standing on the hall stage . He was lighting a cigarette and clearly suffering from the cold. Heating or not the village hall is a place of glacial draughts. As he turned all was revealed - literally and figuratively. The reason for the twelve French ladies anatomical fixation now quite apparent. I smiled, and retreated.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A quiet day.

The long ( and what will doubtless prove to be eventful) process of restoring the ramshackle old house began in earnest yesterday - the kitchen fitters and builders showed up at eight on the dot to start work. Wilf and Digby were out to greet them, alert for the possibility that a jaffa cake might be in the offing. It turned out to be another beautiful spring like sunny morning so off with the two boyz in the car to the local market. It is clearly the radish harvest - rows upon row of stalls selling radishes. What in heavens name do the locals do with them ? There has to be a limit to how many a person can eat. Madame Bay will doubtless enlighten us.

En route to the market we stopped off for a walk through the fields and came across this rather unsettling figure on a bench by the church in the neighbouring village. If I'd come across it at night it would have been decidedly scary. Memories of Wickerman. Neither of the boyz paid it any attention - clearly not jaffa cake material.

The spring bulbs have been encouraged by the arrival of the warmer weather and their shoots are sprouting everywhere. Digby has found a quiet, shady spot by the well which he can retire to when seeking peace from his big brothers boisterous antics. He somehow seems to think that he's quite invisible in his little daffodil filled woodland corner.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Illicit pleasures.

As the afternoon wore on Wilf and Digby seemed rather put out that we weren't hosting another gathering in the house . They sat by the front door waiting to greet their guests - all that post funeral attention has clearly gone to their heads. Faced with two energetic bundles of fluff we loaded them into the back of the car and drove into the countryside for a long walk in the early spring sunshine. There wasn't another soul to be seen and we strolled along roads free of vehicles for almost an hour before Digby's sore hip started to bother him. Amazing that in Europe there are areas that remain so peaceful and bucolic.

Awoke this morning to the news that the UK has officially and finally exited the recession after 18 months. The economy grew by 0.1% in the last quarter. Call me old fashioned but it doesn't seem a great rate of return for the £200,000,000,000 of additional debt the government has taken on. 'The font' helpfully points out that every man,woman,and child in the country is borrowing the equivalent of $100 a week. Doesn't sound much until you multiply by 60 million and then by the number of weeks in a year.

The new kitchen range was supposed to be delivered yesterday. I phoned up the store to ask them what time it was arriving only to be told it won't be here until late February. No apology was forthcoming and the only excuse profered was that the factory had been closed for Christmas. 'Surely you knew that at the beginning of December when we confirmed the date ? ' I half heartedly grumbled. The joiners arrive this morning to fit the new kitchen - so much for all that carefully choreographed planning of deliveries , plumbers,electricians etc. On balance I thought it wiser not to tell the kitchen fitters about the non-arrival of the stove - better to get them started rather than get into the never ending spiral of rescheduling. The joys of restoring an old house. Wilf and Digby like the joiners - the young one smuggles them jaffa cakes. Digby in particular is of the opinion that there is nothing as enjoyable as a forbidden pleasure.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


By the time we got to the church it was standing room only. We took our place to the side of the choir under a stirring wall painting showing a kneeling Joan of Arc, in full armour, looking skywards to a cloud on which was stirringly written : " Go forth Joan! Drive the English from our land so that France may stand in glory". Proof if any were needed that France is one of those countries where there is a psychological if not tangible benefit to being Scottish. The intended martial effect of the fresco was slightly ruined, for me at least, by the artists decision to tinge the whole scene with a strange kryptonite green light.This was presumably intended to reflect a divine presence but made me think of Superman. When I pointed this out to 'the font' I got a look and one of those whispered admonitions which included the word 'behaviour'.

One of the local farmers wives sang, two old friends pronounced brief homilies, the exceedingly ancient priest read a passage and then it was all over. The coffin was borne to the bier and the six black horses duly processed to the cemetery followed by two or three hundred local folk. France is still a country where people make the time to pay their last respects to neighbours. After that it was back to the house where , almost as if we had sent out formal invitations, we were joined by a rather large group of local farmers and their families. A second case of champagne had to be brought up from the cellar.

I'd been rather worried that Wilf and Digby might be frightened by this large group of people. To begin with they were nervous . They rushed out into the garden when we came back from the church barking and racing around the garden, on guard and full of energy. Then miraculously they settled down , greeting the guests with calm indifference and behaving like absolute angels. They revelled in all the attention they got and were soon quite at ease. Digby eventually fell asleep on his back in the middle of the hallway at the feet of the mayor , snoring loudly away to everyones amusement - a sure sign that the traumas of last year are behind him. I was reminded of why I started this blog in the first place - when you travel with two fluffy companions barriers of language and culture break down to be replaced by smiles. Dogs bring a different dimension to life and open doors that would otherwise remain closed . When we arrived three months ago who would have thought we would be drinking champagne with a large group of people we'd never met, after a funeral of someone we didn't know , in deepest France Profonde?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Impish behaviour.

The grey squirrel from Harrods survived the weekend with its stuffing intact . Thankfully, after repeated close contact with Wilfs jaws the irritating squeaker had given up the ghost by ten o'clock on Saturday morning. With the annoying peep-peep-peep sound gone normal conversation could be resumed and household sanity reinstated. There is nothing Digby enjoys more than grabbing the new toy and scampering off with it impishly into the garden - it annoys his big brother no end!

The village has a funeral this afternoon - a huge event for a community with a population of just 67 souls. The funeral cart , which has been used for the last 140 years, is parked dolefully in front of the church . On the morning walk with Digby I saw that six handsome black stallions with plaited manes have been moved from the farm in the valley to the paddock by the stream. The timeless,well practised rituals of life in France Profonde. The mayor has suggested that even though we'd never met the deceased we might, as new residents, wish to attend the service- as close to an order as one can get. I have brought up a case of champagne from the cellar in case new residents are also expected to help with the wake afterwards.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Wilf and Digby started the day in enthusiastic form. After their breakfast routine of yoghurt and a shared Ryvita they were to be found standing in the hallway staring determinedly at the front door , keen to get out and the day started. While 'the font' went racing off at warp factor with Wilf, Digby sauntered slowly along beside me stopping every twenty metres or so to look at the herons standing one legged in the pond, snif the shrubs on the village green, frown at the tapping of the woodpeckers and generally making sure that all was well with the world. He was the first back from the walk, whether by accident or design, and installed himself by the garden gate with a tired old teddy bear ( a relic from when we picked them up at the breeders 8 1/2 years ago) prominently,joyfully and proudly displayed in his mouth. Wilf was not at all happy at this usurpation of his role as top dog and sat radiating frumpy looks. He skilfully and patiently managed to deal with the situation by going into the house and emerging with the toy squirrel. Game,set and match to Wilf.

To the village market with 'the font' late yesterday afternoon. We clearly arrived too late. All that was left by the time we got there apart from the antique stalls were a mass of fresh radishes, garlic, and an artisinal baker. Over dinner we came to the conclusion that the food in France probably is the best in the world. Germany has wonderful white asparagus, there is nothing to beat English strawberries for taste and texture, South African grapes are a delight and Vidalia onions in Georgia are a joy ; but overall the French produce and treat their food with a care and attention that is peculiarly and delightfully French . Our Italian,Australian,Californian and even Canadian friends would of course disagree.

Overnight the date at the top of the post has corrected itself. The Blogger computer has suddenly recognized that I'm writing this in France, not the Pacific. Let's hope the same benign spirit works its wonders on the Volkswagen re-registration system.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


'The font' stopped off at the Harrods pet store on the way to the airport and bought a large grey squeaky squirrel toy for Wilf and Digby to play with. The unveiling of this present, after the standard tail wagging and back flipping family reunion, brought forth an uproarious fanfare of delighted gurgles, moans, whines,whimpers, yelps, grunts, howls, and barks . Who would believe that dogs had such a repertoire of noises? It would be an understatement to say the present was a great success as the two clowns managed to rush backwards and forwards with it along the hallway for a full hour without a break. They were oblivious to everything else in their happiness. Even though he'll be nine in March Wilf hasn't quite got the hang of going round things - he's very much by temperament a go through it rather than round it type dog . His enthusiastic straight line trajectories , disdainful of walls,furniture,and people, as he chased his new furry friend had us chuckling away. Thankfully, that thick Polish Lowland coat acts as great padding. This morning at seven o'clock ,as a sign of his unfettered devotion, Digby kindly delivered to 'the fonts' bedside the still miraculously squeaky squirrel .

Friday, January 22, 2010


It hardly seems possible but it's 3 months to the day since we arrived in France from Italy. We had initially been worried that the two boyz would have difficulty in adjusting to their new environment but they've taken to France Profonde like ducks to water. It only goes to show that as far as a Polish Lowland is concerned home is where the tickles (and kibbles) are.

'The font' is back in London looking after 'Granny font' so the boyz stayed up late with me playing rugby and rug surfing in the hall. Wilf manages to barge his way in on 90% of the throws but deigns to allow his little brother some of the easier catches. Eventually the two of them decided that enough was enough and they settled down together, Digby's chin resting on Wilfs back,and fell into a deep,tired,happy sleep.They were both in exactly the same spot in the hallway when I got up this morning.

The other worldly experience with re-registering the Volkswagen continues. After much huffing and puffing the head office switchboard in Wolfsburg put me through to someone in the customer services department. It was soon evident that the young man found our problem to be irksome and would have prefered to be doing other things with his time- like for example watching paint dry . It was maybe three minutes into the conversation before I found myself asking him what part of the term 'customer service' he didn't understand. The conversation went rapidly downhill thereafter. Today, is however another day and the quest for a registration document, in French, continues.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


A beautiful start to the day marred by a long rambling rant on French radio by some supposed expert criticising the American military 'takeover' of Haiti. The entire speel a reminder of that time honoured European propensity to criticise without having to take responsibility. The interviewer didn't seek to compare France's pitifully small response to that of the US or ask what life would be like in Haiti without America's huge relief effort. Recognising generosity and efficiency doesn't make for good breakfast radio but whingeing does.

The parallel universe negotiations with Volkswagen over re-registering the dog car continue. In return for €120 the Italian office of VW has, after eight weeks and 42 telephone calls, kindly produced the registration documentation showing that the vehicle was bought in Italy and can be exported. Unfortunately, the document is in English and the French authorities at the local prefecture consider it to be as valid as a Venusian passport. Back to square one to get the paperwork re-issued in French.

Wilf has digested a mouse or something equally inedible on one of his forays into the fields and is feeling rather sorry for himself. Boy, does Wilf know how to do sad. He is currently lying in the hallway and turning doleful eyes on any, and everyone, that passes. I'm betting that a voracious appetite will reveal itself at lunchtime.

No matter what I do Google seems to think I'm Gauguin like writing from an atoll somewhere in the Pacific. It's Thursday January 21st here at the keyboard but Wednesday the 20th on the blog. It's been like this for three weeks now. Me and technology!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Haircut time?

Roll on spring time. Wilf's cold weather coat has now become so long and thick that he looks like a small polar bear as he barges along the road on his morning walk . He doesn't look so bad when he's been groomed ( photo # 1), but first thing in the morning he's a walking bad hair day (photo # 2). A trip to the groomers would be on the cards if I could be convinced that another wave of arctic air and snow wasn't about to hit us.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Much to Wilf and Digby's delight the peach yoghurts are back on the supermarket shelves. You can get every other flavour, strawberry, prune, apricot etc all through the year but for some reason the peach production line at the factory seems to shut down in mid-October and only open up again towards the end of January. The same vaguery of supply held true in Italy . The two boyz simply adore the peach flavoured option and consider it to be head and shoulders above all other flavours . Each of them employs a different style to get to those tricky bits at the bottom of the carton. Wilf brings his full powers of concentration to bear, focuses on the pot and then starts licking energetically away .Within a minute the pot looks as though it's been through an industrial steam cleaning process. Digby by contrast gently props his chin on the pot and then tenderly caresses the contents with his tongue savouring each slurp. He can drag out the process for six or seven minutes all the while making gentle moans of delight. This delayed gratification approach annoys his big brother no end.

Electricite de France are working on the power cables today so must go before the supply is cut off.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Camera shy.

Digby doesn't like to be photograped. Usually, he looks away just , turns around , or dives into a pile of leaves at the very moment the shutter on the camera phone is clicked. He clearly believes that to allow his likeness to be captured is akin to allowing someone to steal a piece of his soul. When he does deign to look at the camera it is with a barely disguised bad tempered glare along the lines of 'what are you looking at?'. Wilf by contrast is quite content to look straight at the camera all day. This is usually done from a prone or seated position in the hope / belief that a biscuit will eventually find its way to him. How two brothers can have such totally different character traits never ceases to amaze me.

'The font' is away in London looking after 'Granny font' so the boyz were able to play rugby and rug surf in the hallway late into the night. Eventually the games came to an end two hours past their usual bedtime when Wilf fell into a deep,deep sleep with the ball firmly anchored between his jaws. Wilf sleeps absolutely silently but Digby makes noises like an old steam engine that needs a lube job. He moans, groans, sighs, snores and generally thrashes around all night. His repertoire of woeful sounds used to worry me but after nine years one gets used to it. 'The font' rather unhelpfully takes the view that some dogs mimic their masters. Hmmm.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yes, the French do have a sense of humour.

The dangers of speaking a foreign language. Last night we inadvertently became the source of great hilarity at a crowded restaurant in the neighbouring village. At the end of dinner, while I went of to pay the bill , 'the font' was left alone in what should have been inconsequential conversation with the waitress. I'd only been gone for four minutes, max, but returned to find the waitress in tears and the restaurant manager doubled over in what appeared to be agony. When asked by the staff if we'd enjoyed ourselves 'the font' had helpfully replied in French : " It was our first time here and you can be sure we'll come again". In fact what 'the font' had actually come out with was : "It was our first time here and you can be sure we'll never come again". The hitherto stoical waitresses had let out a wail as she attempted to control her fit of giggles, this in turn had attracted the restaurant manager who on hearing 'the font' repeat this less than glowing review succumbed to an uncontrollable bout of Gallic hilarity. The adjoining tables unreservedly and whole heartedly joined in the cachinnation and clapping of hands - no Anglo-Saxon reserve here in deepest France Profonde. A bottle of champagne was produced, the chuckling chef came out of the kitchen , chairs were drawn up, the owner proposed a toast, and yet more locals introduced themselves chortling contentedly at their new neighbours linguistic faux pas. What could have been a disaster was taken with charm, good grace and lashings of healthy laughter. Of course if we'd been in Paris it would have been a different matter.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Don't touch the dial

Madame Bay loves to listen to music as she majestically dusts and vacuums her way through the house. This morning I found that every Radio in the house had been tuned to the 'nostalgie' channel, a sanity straining station which plays saccharine ballads of the 50's and 60's for hour upon hour. Usually the featured artistes croon away with a repertoire of French Beach Boy spin offs but today,the gravely, basso profundo voice of that American chanteur,Mr.Barry White with his ' You know you want it girl, I want it too' greeted my first coffee of the day. Some early morning shocks to the system should be outlawed.

Wilf and Digby are in fine form. The little one joined Wilf on the morning walk and kept up with him for the first five hundred metres. Both the paw and the hip seem to be on the mend.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A senior moment.

Back from London to be met by two very happy and enthusiastic boyz. From the back flips and pirouettes you'd think I'd been away for a month not a day. The two of them have now positioned themselves in the kitchen and are trying to shame me into giving them a biscuit with their ' how could you leave us?' routine.

What should have been a simple 24 hour return trip turned into a travelling nightmare. Heathrow was closed by snow for much of Thursday so the first flight of the day from London into Toulouse simply didn't arrive. Thankfully,there was a substitute British Airways aircraft that had been stranded in France overnight and we were all loaded onto that. With two loads of passengers it became very,very full which was just as well as it was very,very cold having been parked on the sub-zero apron for twelve hours. Goodness me! How the French passengers gave loud and sustained expression to their joy at discovering that there was a total lack of catering on board . The captain hoped we would get away with a two or three hours weather delay but what no one had counted on was the decision by the French air traffic controllers to chose this particular moment go on strike . We eventually got a take off slot at three and arrived into London in pitch darkness to be met by a lack of buses to deplane us. The atmosphere had turned distinctly revolutionary by the time the steps were wheeled up. So much for getting into town for lunch!

Up at four this morning to head off in a cab to the airport for the first flight back. Twenty years ago I used to be able to bounce on and off planes all day,every day with the nonchalance and vigour of youth. These days I'm ready for a nap by the time I've responded to the whimsical charms of the gauleiters at the security gate.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A big brothers advice

Wilf: "Question everything".
Digby: 'Why?'

Red sky in the morning ...

At last the snow has disappeared to be replaced by a light, warm breeze and a thin layer of high wispy cloud. Digby fairly raced along on his morning walk,the balmier temperatures clearly helping him forget the arthritic pains. The sky this morning is tinged with a palet of red,orange and gold - a wonderful backdrop to the walk and a sign of another weather front sweeping off the Atlantic and heading to the Pyrenees, and us. Hopefully, after five days in a row of freezing weather this time it will be a warm front.

Yesterday was spent re-registering the cars from Italian to French jurisdiction and getting new number plates. The Land Rover was no problem - the paperwork needed to complete the process and satisfy the authorities was sent through from Paris within twenty minutes and the local dealer made and fitted new plates on the spot. The dog car is another matter. Volkswagen France say that as the car was bought in Italy it is nothing to do with them and they can't issue a certificate saying it is safe to drive on European roads. Volkswagen Italy say that as the car is out of Italy it is no longer their responsibility. Volkswagen Head Office in Germany eventually connected me to a young man in 'customer service' who was suffering from a charm bypass and who rather unhelpfully suggested I drive the car back to Italy. Todays task is to continue this one way Faustian dialogue with Europe's largest car manufacturer . Being the European Union there is no such thing as a car registration document that is recognized in all 27 members. Naturally, without a French approved Certificate of Conformity ( in French) re-insuring and replating the cars is impossible.

Digby is outside in the garden telepathically imposing his will on a ball (so far the ball is winning) while Wilf is upstairs in the kitchen optimistically hoping 'the font' drops the baking tray.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beauty sleep.

Bright blue skies, the most vivid of sunrises and sub-zero temperatures greeted Wilf and Digby on their early morning excursion into the village. Wilf went racing off with 'the font' on his weight reducing regimen while Digby and I gently sauntered down the road like two octogenarians taking the air at the seaside. The snow is slowly retreating as the weak winter sun warms the ground and hopefully by the end of today all traces of it should have gone.

Wilf did not want to get up this morning. When I opened the curtains he grumpily placed his paw over his eyes in a ' what do you think you're doing getting up at this unearthly time ? ' movement and snuggled further down into his mattress. He eventually wandered in for breakfast twenty minutes later and slumped noisily on the floor letting all and sundry know that a boy has to get his beauty sleep. Laughter just comes naturally when you live with these two.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The south of France.

The arctic conditions continue to sweep across the south of France - the blizzards are more like Forfarshire than Gascony. It fell to minus nine last night turning the roads into treacherous skating rinks for both cars and pedestrians. Digby ventured out on his morning walk but soon found that the ice, coupled to his sore paw and arthritic back leg, made progress difficult. After slipping and sliding his way along for 100 metres or so he finally sat at the corner of the village green and decided that he'd had enough exercise for the day. Wilf by contrast returned from his hike ready for ball games in the snow drifts. Two brothers, two totally different characters.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It snowed and snowed and...

The snow started yesterday morning and fell, gently, but continuously all day.Confused by the darkness the villages eight street lights (the source of much civic pride) stayed on for most of the day while the only noise that disturbed the heavy sepulchral silence was the rumble of the occasional tractor taking straw to the cattle. Wilf and Digby forgot that they are at the 'senior dog' stage of life and fuelled by a healthy portion of breakfast porridge they reverted to being puppys. Boy did they romp, bounce, leap and belly flop in the snow. Noses and muzzles got covered as the two of them raced round the fields, ears flying aerodynamically behind them in the cold air, incompetently following the scent of long gone deer or stoats. Thankfully, we have no visitors this weekend so the hallway and corridors are covered in a double layer of old blankets and towels in a (vain) attempt to soak up some of the melting snow from their fur. The two boyz take on the day? Bliss!